Kastles Come Back to
Shock Freedoms 19-18
(Photo by Fred & Susan Mullane/Camerawork USA)
With the Washington Kastles trailing the host Philadelphia Freedoms 15-9 at halftime on Wednesday, Venus Williams raised her level and rallied her team to an improbable 19-18 comeback win in a nationally-televised match.
In the fourth set, Venus defeated Beatrice Capra 5-2 in women's singles to cut the Freedoms' lead to three. Then, Venus and Leander Paes punished winners past Lisa Raymond and Nathan Healey in the mixed doubles finale. One sensational shot followed another as the Kastles broke Raymond, and then Healey, to win the set and the match outright.
"She was down six games, came in and pulled our team together," Paes said of Venus. "She's such a great champion. No matter what the situation, she's looking to have fun on the court and she's awesome to play with."
The night began ominously for the Kastles when Philadelphia's Brendan Evans stunned 2010 Rookie of the Year Bobby Reynolds 5-2. In their four prior meetings on the ATP Challenger Tour, Evans had never won a set against his countryman.
Women's doubles followed, pitting longtime partners and three-time Grand Slam champions Rennae Stubbs and Lisa Raymond against one another. Raymond got the better of her old friend, teaming with Capra to defeat Stubbs and Venus 5-3, increasing the Freedoms' lead overall to 10-5.
In men's doubles, neither Reynolds and Paes, nor Evans and Healey, earned a break point until the eighth game. Serving on a deciding point, Paes blasted a service winner to force a tiebreak. But the Kastles were also unable to break serve in the tiebreaker, dropping the set 5-4(2) when Paes missed a backhand volley long.
Now down 15-9, the Kastles hopes of starting the season with two straight wins seemed slim. But Venus opened up a 3-0 lead in women's singles with a service winner out wide. Though Capra held in her next two service games, Venus cut the Kastles deficit in half by beating the 19-year-old American 5-2.
Though the Freedoms won the first game of mixed doubles, Venus and Paes quickly served notice that the match was anything but over. After Paes held for 1-1, the Kastles broke Raymond's serve and the Freedoms' spirit with a series of scintillating strokes.
First, Paes crushed a clean backhand return winner down the line. Then, Venus belted a forehand return right at Raymond's body to draw a volley error. On the third point of the game, Venus' swinging volley winner nearly nailed both Raymond and Healey. Washington secured a 2-1 advantage when Venus dipped a backhand return at Raymond's feet to force her volley into the net.
Venus held for 3-1 with help from her partner at the net -- Paes putting two overheads away before poaching for a backhand volley winner. One game later, the Kastles tied the match score at 18 when they broke Healey.
Washington hadn't led in the overall match score the entire night until Paes clinched the comeback win in style. The Indian hit overhead, service and volley winners before Venus put the finishing touches on the match with a smash past Healey.
"It felt good to be out there," said Venus. "In the first game, Leander just kind of blew it up. He hit some great shots, and I followed his lead. I don't know if we've lost yet together, actually, so this is a good idea maybe for the majors."